WHAT with all the off-field turmoil at Celtic, speculation over the future of Neil Lennon, debate about who should play against Hearts in the William Hill Scottish Cup final and excitement at the prospect of the Parkhead club doing the quadruple treble, it is a landmark that has been largely overlooked.

But it was 20 years ago this month that Lennon signed for his boyhood heroes in a £5.75m transfer – he remains their fifth most expensive player ever to this day - from Leicester City.

Little could the Northern Irishman have imagined back in 2000 what lay in store for him, both good and bad, in Glasgow or suspected that he would be involved in a variety of different roles, player, coach and manager, for much of the next two decades when he did so.

He certainly couldn’t have dreamed that one day he would have the chance to make Scottish football history by becoming the first man ever who has both played for and managed a team that has won the Premiership, League Cup and Scottish Cup in the same season.

Yet, the 49-year-old, who avoided the sack earlier this month after a dire run of two wins in 12 games that left Celtic trailing Rangers by 13 points in the league and who is still under intense pressure to produce results, is just as determined to do well as the day he arrived.

“It’s been a fantastic 20 years,” he said. “I had a spell away, but my involvement has just been amazing. There have been lows and highs. But it’s been a blessing and a real privilege.

“You couldn’t have envisaged how it would pan out. It’s been incredible. I don’t take it lightly. We work tirelessly to maintain the successful standards the club has set. We’re being tested at the minute, but that can only be a good thing as well.

“I don’t know many championships we have won in that period. Maybe 15 out of 20? It’s unbelievable and I don’t want it to end. I want it to keep going. We are very driven and galvanised.”

Lennon will eclipse the achievements of an elite group of managers – Scot Symon, Jock Stein, Jock Wallace, Walter Smith, Dick Advocaat, Martin O’Neill, Alex McLeish and Brendan Rodgers – if Celtic beat Hearts at Hampden in the rescheduled final tomorrow afternoon.

No member of that illustrious octet completed a clean sweep of domestic silverware, as the former midfielder did during his debut campaign in this country, as a player. He is, however, more concerned with Celtic continuing to enjoy success than his own place in the history books.

Their chances of completing 10-In-A-Row may be in danger due to the commanding lead their city rivals have built up in the first half of the 2020/21 campaign and their fans are deeply unhappy because of that. However, he knows the quadruple treble would be an immense accomplishment too.

“It is important to us,” he said. “It’s important to the people at the club, to the players, to the staff at Lennoxtown and at the stadium. I’m pretty sure and confident that it was always important to the majority of Celtic supporters. You’ll never see it again.”

Asked what it will mean to him personally, Lennon said: “It would be hard for me to put into words, really. Ask me on Sunday if I’ve achieved it. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. All the talk and all the speculation is about quadruple trebles, but we have to win a cup final.

“We have to take the game in isolation and forget about all the other competitions we’re in or have been involved in. We need to full focus on Sunday. If we prevail then I’ll let you know how I feel after that.

“It would mean a helluva lot. But it’s not about me. I’m only as good as the team and my players and they have been amazing, they’ve been fantastic. Yes, we have had a tough time of it, but you can see all around Europe that there is nothing normal about this season and we have to be wary of making sure that we are at our best for the game coming up. If we’re not right then anything can happen.”

Lennon is acutely aware of the threat that Hearts pose. He felt for the Tynecastle club when final Premiership placings were decided on a points per game basis due to the coronavirus pandemic and they were relegated in May. He thinks that will be at the back of their minds and knows their Championship status is irrelevant.

“The clubs took the vote that it was the best way forward to take the game forward, but, yeah, I had sympathy for Hearts,” he said.

“I think they’re now good enough to come out of the Championship at the first attempt. They have an excellent manager who has done it before with them. He knows the club and they play a good brand of football. They have recruited well with international and ex-international players.

“This, for me, is as tough a game as we could expect at this level. With recent result they’ll be confident and will play with belief. So I’m taking anything for granted. I would never dream of talking down any opposition.

“We have seen this week (with St Mirren beating Rangers in the Betfred Cup quarter-final) how difficult cup competitions can be for all teams.”

Lennon continued: “We want to finish off all our work from last season against a very good Hearts side who will have their own motivations and who will want to avenge what happened in the last cup final (they lost 2-1 to Celtic last year).

“They are on a good run themselves which means they will come into the game confident off the back of a great win in the semi-final (against Hibernian). So we’re not taking it for granted that we’re going to win the game.

“Winning games is hard and winning trophies is a very difficult thing to do. The players here have done it very, very well over the piece and we’re just looking for another big performance on Sunday.”